Recently, my father-in-law passed away having been in hospice care for some time now. He had told his wife, and children, he was ready to go. I answered the survey on the Legacy site (Click here to submit your own answers) prior to my father-in-law’s death. After his death, I had a few additional thoughts of what legacy means to me. Both my husband and I have had the honor and privilege to have been with our respective father’s at the end of their life (my husband was with me during my father’s passing – we not only got to tell my father we loved him, but we got to hear it back). He also had the same pleasure of telling his father he loved him and heard it back. It is a very emotional time, the death of a loved one.
Think about the birth of a family member, we are excited and emotional – happy and elated; when you witness the passing of a loved one who has had a good life and is ready to leave this earth, the emotions are nearly the same except we put some sadness into the mix of emotions. Having the “time” to prepare for the death of a loved one prior is certainly different than having a loved one leave this earth due to anything but natural causes.
There are ripple effects from many events in our life that when we sit back and think about it, can be very profound. You see, my father-in-law offered me an opportunity over 20 years ago which brought me to where I am today. I had a cash value life insurance policy with some cash value build up at the time I met my husband in 1991. I had been funding it at $50/mo. since 1985, the death benefit was $50,000. I purchased it because my first husband’s football coach came to visit us and said you need to have something for your daughter if you pass – but even better, during your lifetime, you have access to the cash value for anything you want – he then showed to me what the value would look like – just think, in 18 years when you send your daughter to college, you can use this money to help her out! Sounds great, where do I sign? Long story short, we needed some money in 1992 so we could renovate my then home add an extra bedroom and bathroom because we planned to get married and bring our two families together. My father-in-law represented the life insurance company that I owned the policy through and he became my servicing agent and helped me to take a loan from the company against the cash value and death benefit. As the story goes, my father-in-law later asked me to join his firm and learn the other side of estate planning – the side where people prepare during their lifetime for what they want to have happen in their lives financially.
Prior to 1994, I was a paralegal. I have a great many stories in my previous career as a paralegal. Working on the legal issues of families in all realms of life: Wills and Trusts, divorce, death, real estate transfers, corporations, and other litigation. I witnessed first-hand how during our lives there are issues we have to deal with, the sooner you deal with them the better. I have also witnessed that procrastination… or not dealing with issues until it is too late… can be very costly not only monetarily, but also emotionally. Some of my experiences were great in helping people out, however, some of my experiences were not so good – The main reason when the stories were not so good were due to the unexpected consequences of either 1) being in the wrong place at the wrong time and a life taken from us way too soon and unexpectedly; 2) leaving this earth, whether expected or unexpected, and not having had let family members know your intentions for managing your estate; or 3) life situations that happen and force you to change your course of action for the future.
When it came to “legacy,” clients had either planned and executed a Will/Trust/Medical directives/Powers of Attorney and went smoothly because family members were directed of personal wishes and instructions; or they had not written any estate planning documents and it did not go so smoothly. In those cases, not only did the beneficiaries lose, but the overall family dynamics had changed for the worse. When family members begin a fight in the court systems, the overall estate value falls drastically from all sorts of issues, personal and financial. Financially, the money of the estate first pays out to witness fees, court costs and attorney fees before any settlement is made to the family.
The ripple effect of my legacy with my father-in-law not only is a part of the story above, but also is a part of my memory of him. His encouragement for me to continue to educate myself through different seminars, industry designations, to join industry groups, talk to people, stay busy and he promised me, I would be successful… I can hear his voice today.
What do you want your legacy to be? I know my father-in-law had great pride in seeing me progress in my career, and I too for him and his struggles and accomplishments during his life. His funeral went according to his wishes; his eulogy delivered by his daughter’s husband, made easier because he had a part in helping my brother-in-law learn ahead of time what he wanted to share; military honors for his Navy service; his family and friends together to reminisce about the good times; his wife financially secure; and, well, our memories of him, they are ours.